February 2008


If you’re interested in Foreign Aid and Development this podcast with William Easterly (the nemesis of Jeffery Sachs) may interest you.

An article about cheap Chinese motorcycles helping the poor of Laos.

http://www.nytimes.com/2007/12/27/world/asia/27laos.html?_r=1&oref=slogin

Note: My understanding is a Chinese motorbike is only $250-$300 USD, not the $440 they mention in the article. For $550 you can get a Korean bike, and for $1200 you can get a Japanese bike.

Elephants are amazing creatures. The people of Lao have known that for a long time. This country use to be known as the Kingdom of One Million Elephants.

Yesterday I saw two elephants walking the road between Vang Vieng and Vientiane. They’re the first elephants I’ve seen in Laos. I was getting bored by the monotony of the road and dozing off when two elephants suddenly appeared in front of us. We stopped and got out to take some photographs.

The Lao people nearby looked really happy to see the elephants. In one of my photos you can see the broad smiles of three women watching the elephants. With so few elephants left in the country it might have been as a rare site for these Lao people to see an elephant as it was for me.

When we drove past the elephants I saw one was holding a papaya in its trunk. I’m not sure if it was given it or whether it just took it. I kind of like the idea of a stealing elephant. Putting a moral code on animals humanises them unlike anything else.

One thing I’ve gotten out of this year is a number of good reasons to become a vegetarian. Seems funny that this has happened in a country where almost nothing is sacred when it comes to what type of animals you can eat. I once showed a work colleague a picture of a Australian koala. He responded by asking, “Is it delicious?”.

I have seen baby elephants in Bangkok and Udon Thani. They were being led around to earn money from tourist photos. It’s rather sad to see when you think of how communal elephants are, and how hard it must be for a baby elephant to be away from its mother.

One of my housemates told me that a man in her town died after being sat on by an elephant while travelling in India.

My favourite god of the moment is Ganesh, the Hindu god of wisdom. Ganesh has the body of a man but the head of an elephant. The story goes that Ganesh’s dad came home one day after being away a long time. He saw Ganesh but didn’t recognise him, so cut off his head. Apparently that was the thing to do at the time. In rushes Ganesh’s mum, screaming “What have you done!” or words to that effect (or is it affect?). As luck would have it an elephant was walking by the house at the time. Being a thinking man Ganesh’s dad chopped off the elephants head and put it on his son beheaded body. Problem solved. As Ganesh’s dad himself a the Hindu god, being Shiva, he was able to do this kind of thing.

I also like Ganesh because he’s always depicted eating sweets. Because I enjoy eating sweets too I feel I can relate to Ganesh more than I can with other monotheistic gods.

A Lao friend told me that he use to be in the Lao Airforce. I asked him what kind of plane did he fly. “No planes. Just guns.” I think that meant that they only had anti-aircraft weapons but no actual aircraft.